Catch the Spectacle of Thousands of Migrating Birds at Wisconsin's Horicon Marsh
At Horicon Marsh, you don't have to be an expert to find the wildlife. It's everywhere.
The marsh—an hour northeast of Madison, Wisconsin—is one of the nation's best birding spots. Split into state and federal wildlife refuges, the 33,000-acre area (the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the United States) welcomes an estimated 300,000 birds every spring and fall. Nearly 300 species have stopped by, from the common Canada goose and tree swallow to the rare trumpeter swan and yellow-billed cuckoo. On a spring day, lucky birders might see as many as 100 species.
A loop road reveals Horicon Marsh's varied landscape: open water, cattail marsh, upland prairie and wooded wetlands. But you'll have more fun (and see more animals) when you get out of the car to stretch your legs and picnic along gentle bike and hiking trails. Two visitors centers—the state's Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center and the federal Horicon National Wildlife Refuge center—supply maps, birding brochures and general information about the marsh, making it easy to explore on your own. Also ask about demonstrations and tours.
Explore by Hiking
About 12 miles of flat hiking trails (including one with a floating boardwalk) provide easy access at Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, which occupies the northern two-thirds of the marsh. Five miles of trails, also including a boardwalk, take you through woods, prairie and onto the marsh at the state's Horicon Marsh Wildlife Area. Binoculars make bird-watching more rewarding, but you will spot plenty without them.
Explore by Biking
The 34-mile Wild Goose State Trail, a rails-to-trails bike path, runs along the marsh's western edge.
When to Visit
You can typically see the greatest variety of birds from mid-April to mid-May and again in fall from mid-September to October. But birds migrate at different times, so you might want to make multiple trips to see the most species. To keep track of current migrations as well as to learn more about marsh birds and tours, visit the Horicon Marsh Bird Club's Facebook page.
Attend The Festival
The 26th Horicon Marsh Bird Festival happens May 12-14, 2023. Walking tours, paddle excursions and live birds of prey displays are among the many educational, family-friendly experiences.
Where to Eat
A plain exterior at Ginger's opens to a wildlife-theme restaurant serving burgers, pizzas, steaks and more in the city of Horicon, just south of the marsh.
Rock River Tap
The Friday fish fry is legendary at Rock River. But if you're there another night, expect dinners of chicken, pork chops or fish with generous sides.
Where to Stay
Honeybee Inn Bed and Breakfast
This four-bedroom inn in Horicon delights with comfy beds and delectable breakfasts.
Extend Your Visit
With Madison only an hour away, it's easy to combine an adventure at Horicon Marsh with a night or two (or longer) in Madison. See our guide for top things to do in Madison.
Related: March of the Cranes in Nebraska